I suggest you read the section on Psychosocial Yellow Flags first as it gives some useful background details on the variety of unhelpful thoughts and beliefs that can make your back problem feel worse.
One of those yellow flags is getting mixed messages about what exactly is the matter with your back. This is very common. Patients with back pain who come to see me have often seen someone else first.
There is nothing worse than having several people disagree on what is the matter with your back. It leads to anxiety and a loss of trust which in turn leads to more anxiety and fear. Its not deliberate, it’s a fact that the diagnosis of low back problems is dependant on what you tell the clinician and on certain clinical tests which are not always totally reliable. Some recent studies demonstrate this:
”The problem is rooted in the clinician's strong dependency on reported pain, which may not always be a reliable source of objective information”(1)
The impact of misdiagnosis has been studied (2) and shows an interesting finding. When someone is given different diagnoses the person suffering back problems becomes more certain that the doctors have it wrong and they know the answer, they become more attached to their pre existing beliefs about what is causing the problem. This may not be a problem unless the beliefs lead to unhelpful behaviours which are going to cause more problems e.g. fear avoidance and catastrophising.
This *book is the MOST helpful book on pain that I have ever read. It is simple to understand and very reassuring. I would highly recommend it to anyone who is dealing with back pain.
“My doctor said it was sciatica, and then the chiropractor said my back was out because my legs were different lengths and I had a rotated pelvis. X-rays show something different again, wear and tear, and now you’re saying its simple lower back pain and I should become more active.
I don’t trust that any of you know what is really wrong with me. It must be serious if you can’t agree and I’m not reassured any of you know what you are talking ab29-Jul-2017t makes my pain worse until I finally have an answer and have really got to the bottom of this.”
The guide to assessing psychosocial needs and yellow flags includes these experiences which make disability from back problems more likely:
Read more in the full New Zealand Acute Low Back Pain Guidelines document here.
There is also a newer research article (2011) reappraising yellow flags Early Identification and Management of Psychological Risk Factors (“Yellow Flags”) in Patients With Low Back Pain: A Reappraisal
1.Gracovetsky, S. A., et al. "The impact of inefficient clinical diagnosis on the cost of managing low back pain." Journal of healthcare risk management : the journal of the American Society for Healthcare Risk Management 17.3 (1997): 21-31.
2.May, C. R., M. J. Rose, and F. C. Johnstone. "Dealing with doubt How patients account for non-specific chronic low back pain." Journal of psychosomatic research 49.4 (2000): 223-25.